Only Dimes

Only Dimes

Short Fiction

Jim Meirose

 

 

 

I’ll tell you the story, Doc—I only want dimes. I like the way dimes feel in my hand and I like the way they look. There’s no reason to carry any other kind of coin. I can’t help it Doctor. I like dimes. Quarters are too big. They’re heavy in the hand. They’re big and they’re gross and I want nothing to do with them. Pennies aren’t worth anything. What can you buy with a penny but a one cent stamp? I’m hung up on money Doctor. All I can think about are coins. Nickels. Never thought much of nickels either. And dollars—just think, they used to make silver dollars, all heavy and gross. Nothing beats a dime, I’ll tell you. Dimes are God-damned sexy.

The doctor leaned back in his green leather chair with one eyebrow raised and considered Batchelor, who was obviously hung up on coins. That was all Batchelor could think about. It was the only such case the doctor had. Now it was true Batchelor was a coin collector, and that he owned a coin collector’s shop, the only one in Big Town, but that shouldn’t be leading to such a mania. The doctor scribbled in his pad as he spoke.

Do you think that maybe it’s your line of work that’s leading you to such thoughts?

Of course it is, snapped Batchelor. I’ve been around coins all my life. I’ve been around coins too much. They’re hard and round and gross—not dimes though; dimes are beautiful.

Batchelor shifted uneasily in his chair and clasped his hands together. The doctor wrote something more into his yellow pad he held on his lap.

What did you write? said Batchelor. What did you just write?

Just some notes. Why?

You’ve got no right to make notes about me. What are you saying in those notes?

The doctor’s thin eyebrows rose.

Well—I’ll read them to you. Here.

The doctor held the pad before his clean plain face.

Mr. Batchelor is hung up on coins, he read. And he—

No! exclaimed Batchelor. Dimes. Dimes are what I love. I’m not hung up on coins—all the other coins can go to hell. You know what I fantasize about?

No, what?

As Batchelor spoke, he wrung his hands together; his eyes half closed and he rocked back and forth.

I’m standing on a sidewalk with an open guitar case before me. I’m playing guitar—playing it beautifully. I’ve got some dimes in the case to seed things and I’m playing my heart out and up comes a man with a peg leg.

Peg leg?

Right. And he throws a quarter into my guitar case and I stop playing and I say no—get that out of there. I only take dimes.

But a quarter’s worth more than a dime.

No, it’s not! Not to me! Get the damned quarter out of there! Get it out—here—

And doctor, I lean down and grab up the quarter and throw it out into the road where it rolls across out of sight, because the street here’s strewn with shit.

Shit?

Yeah. And the guy with the peg leg goes out into the road to get his quarter, after cursing me of course—and he gets mowed down by a tractor-trailer. And he had thought before that the accident where he lost his leg was the worst thing that could have happened to him, but now he’s squashed in the road. And the tractor trailer driver has stopped down the road and he walks up to the man with the peg leg and sees he’s just lying there motionless, and he get down on his knees and touches the man on his neck to feel for a pulse and feels there is none—I can see it in his face that there is none—and he rises and catches sight of me and comes up, because I am the only person around.

Do you have a phone? he says to me. Do you have a phone? I need a phone.

Give me a dime, I say. Throw a dime in my case and I’ll play you a song.

I don’t need a song, said the truck driver. I need a phone. Didn’t you see me run that peg-legged guy over? I need a phone.

I turn and point to the line of rundown storefronts behind me.

Go knock on that door—or that one—or that other one. Ask them for a dime.

A phone, he says. A phone, not a dime.

The truck driver goes up to the door behind me and knocks heavily. And there is no answer. And he goes to the next door and there is no answer. And the next—and the next—and the next and the next and the next and the next and the—

Whoa, said the doctor, raising a hand. Let’s not get manic here. After all, it’s just a story you’re telling me—it didn’t really happen.

That’s true. Let me get hold of myself. God, my heart is racing. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to collect coins that way, in a guitar case for payment for playing beautifully.

The doctor leaned over in his chair.

Do you play the guitar? he asked.

A little, says Batchelor. I can play snatches of things—I can play a few classical tunes—rough, because I never practice and I play about once a week. It just sounds like noise. Snap, crackle, pop—that’s what my playing sounds like. I’ve got a pretty good right hand but my left hand sucks. No technique.

The doctor rubbed his chin.

Ever know anybody with a peg leg? said the doctor.

No.

Why did the man in your fantasy have a peg leg?

Because it’s a story and you have to make things interesting.

Is the man with the peg leg dead?

I—I don’t know—but I pick up my violin and start to saw away on it again—

I thought you had a guitar.

No, no, doctor. With a classical guitar you need a chair and a footstool and with a violin you just stand there, it’s just you and the violin. A woman with a mouthful of huge buck teeth comes up and throws a handful—a whole handful—of nickels into my guitar case. So, I stop playing and I tell her, take those nickels out of my case—I only take dimes—and she cocks her fist on her hip and scowls, and—my God, her teeth!

Ugh!

What do you mean you only take dimes? she said.

What I said, I say—and I bend down and grab up the nickels and one by one I start throwing them into the road. They’re bouncing and rolling and flying around. She goes out after them and is cleanly hit by a car. I start playing again. Oh, I can saw on the violin. Saw and screech and squeal. The car that hit her stops and a tall young blonde woman gets out all in black. She kneels and puts her fingers on the Nickel woman’s neck, and then she comes up to me. I play faster.

Do you have a phone? she says. I stop playing.

No, I said. Try the doors up behind me.

She tries the doors. No answers. Just like for the truck driver, who, by the way, is sitting in the cab of his truck, waiting for a cop. I thought all trucks had radios but I guess not his. The young woman comes up to me again after trying the doors and getting no answer.

What do I do? she says.

Go talk to the truck driver back there, I say. He ran down that dead guy over there.

Oh God, I didn’t even see that one, she says. She goes up to the cab of the truck and talks to the driver. So there’s a car sitting on the road, and a tractor trailer, and a dead peg-legged man and a dead bucktoothed woman, and a quarter is in the road and a handful of nickels. I suddenly felt bad about what had happened. I feel awful, doctor. I feel miserable. It’s all my fault, I threw the coins out there.

But this is just a story you’re making up here, said the doctor.

While I tell it, it’s happening, said Batchelor, breathing heavily.

The clean-faced doctor leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.

No—listen—there is no peg legged man and bucktoothed woman dead in the road. There is no tractor trailer and no car in the road and no quarter and no nickels.

Oh!  Oh, doctor there are quarters and nickels and dimes—and pennies. While I sat behind my harp playing beautifully—

I thought you were playing the violin.

No, no—the harp is the queen of instruments. I’m playing the harp, now, and a small boy comes up and drops a whole handful of pennies in with my three dimes—I jump up and grip the boy by the hair and shake him silly and I yell into his ear, not caring if his father is watching and will come and club me with a bat for touching his son so inappropriately and I yell, saying Get every one of those God damned pennies out of my harp case and do it now—here! Here! Like this!

And I reach down and grab out the pennies and hurl them into the road, still holding the boy by the hair with my other hand and the boy shouts My pennies! My pennies; and the boy’s father comes up with a baseball bat and grabs me by the arm that I got the boy with and he makes me pull the hair that much harder—and the boy screams and the father yells into my ear, saying You play the God-damn harp so well that my boy wanted to give you his jar of pennies and look how you treat him! You treat him like shit! Let go his hair and go out there into the road and get every one of his pennies back, or I’ll club ya’. And he waves his bat around and I let go the boy and grab his bat hand, and we scuffle and the man is weaker than even me—even me, get it? And we scuffle out into the road and I let him go and he’s pulling back and he falls right into the side of the tractor trailer sitting there and smashes his head against the huge steel wheel, and he rolls back over and there’s blood coming out of his nose—and his boy runs out yelling Poppa! Poppa! directly into the path of another tractor trailer and is crushed, and I jump back and barely avoid getting hit, and the wheels of the tractor trailer go over the dead bucktoothed woman and the dead peg-legged man, and I stood there. I just stood frozen—this tractor trailer didn’t stop, it just barreled on past and I just stood there. The boy was crushed. I felt for a pulse. There was no pulse. He looked so awful, all shapeless and flattened.

Batchelor sat breathing heavily on the psychologist’s couch and the doctor said Hold onto yourself Mr. Batchelor—it’s not really happening—

Batchelor waved his arm and said Oh yes, oh yes—I go back to my harp and start to play looking out over the scene, the dead peg-legged man and the dead bucktoothed woman, the dead Father and the crushed boy, and the tractor trailer and car pulled up next to each other with the young woman who’d run down the bucktoothed woman talking to the truck driver who stood leaning against the fender of her car in a wifebeater undershirt and those two are acting like nothing has happened. They are witnesses; they need to be eliminated; I go and pick up the bat the boy’s father dropped and I go over and club the young woman and the truck driver to death. And now they are all dead doctor. They are all dead. I drop the bat; it rolls across.

None of this is real Batchelor—your face is as red as a beet. Calm down.

I know doctor, I know—there’s a big part of me that knows I’m just sitting here with you but there’s just as big a part of me who’s out there by that road in front of all those locked up storefronts, playing the harp violin and guitar by turns and a beautiful woman with long dark hair comes up and listens to my music and smiles, and at last, at last, she drops handfuls of dimes into my harp case;  dimes!  DIMES!  And I—

Calm down Batchelor!

I get up and grab her and dance her out into the road—

Batchelor!

Batchelor rose and moved as if dancing spinning wildly across the room, yelling I danced with her—danced with her and we went out into the street intoxicated with all the dimes DIMES dimes DIMES in my case and we dance out into the road and what’s that coming WHATS THAT COMING ROARING UP OVER ME—

The doctor rose just as Batchelor spun around and fell dead on the floor of the office. Just like that—dead as a stone. The doctor was amazed. He called the police. An officer came quickly.

What happened doc?

He was telling this crazy story—and then he got up and danced around all crazy and fell dead right there.

Crazy story? About what?

The doctor sat down and waved an arm as he spoke.

Like this—he said I’ll tell you the story, doc—I only want dimes. I like the way dimes feel in my hand and I like the way they look. There’s no reason to carry any other kind of coin. I can’t help it doctor. I like dimes…

The doctor sat down and told the police the story word for word—amazing it was, the way he knew it word for word—right up to where he also lay dead on the floor of the office and the police captain got called down and the policeman told the story word for word until he also lay dead on the floor of the office and the story got told again, word for word, and again, and again, and again, one body at a time.

 

 

Bio: Jim Meirose’s short work has appeared in numerous venues. He has published several novels as well, including the upcoming “Understanding Franklin Thompson” (JEF pubs ’18) and “Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer” (Optional Books ’18). Info: www.jimmeirose.com

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